Dumplings are a famous traditional northern Chinese food consisting of a semi-circular or half-moon pasta shape with different fillings inside. Dumplings are given different names because of their various fillings. There are different ways to cook dumplings, such as fried dumplings or steamed dumplings.
Dumplings are also a special food in the Spring Festival in northern China, where people have the habit of eating dumplings in winter. On the eve of the Spring Festival, dumplings take an irreplaceable place in any big banquet. The New Year's tradition of eating dumplings is the same all around the country, but the custom of eating dumplings changes in different places.
Eating dumplings during New Year's Eve is the traditional habit for most Chinese, but some areas choose to eat dumplings after New Year's Eve. Eating dumplings on the occasion of New Year's represents making wishes and the expression of praying for good luck in a unique way. Eating dumplings in the Spring Festival brings good luck. In addition, the dumplings' shape looks like an ingot (元宝), which was the currency used in old times, meaning 'luck and fortune'.
Dumplings have already become a common type of food in the southern regions of China. However, compared to the north, the dumplings are different because of the dumplings' skin. The skins of the southern dumplings are made of rice. In addition, the role of dumplings is different in these two regions. In the north, dumplings are an important dish for the Spring Festival dinner unlike in the south where their consumption is not necessary during this occasion.
Dumplings' Historical Origins
Even in the Three Kingdoms period, this food was mentioned in Zhang Yi's book, Guang Ya 广雅 (the author, who is from Wei County). According to research, the food originates from the Northern Dynasty as "crescent moon-shaped ravioli 偃月形馄饨" and in the Southern to Tang Dynasties as "dry meat Jiaozi 燥肉双下饺子", dating from more than 1,400 years ago.
Around the Tang Dynasty, the dumplings took their present-day form and were separated on a plate as a dish. In 1972, archaeologists in Xinjiang Turpan's Astana Tombs, found a buried wooden bowl containing a dozen objects shaped like a crescent moon resembling today's dumplings (which is recognized by experts as the Tang Dynasty's "prison pill" 牢丸). From this, we know the tradition of eating dumplings had been passed to the Western ethnic minority areas 1,300 years ago.
Dumplings were famous in the Qing Dynasty, when dumpling restaurants could be seen everywhere. The Qing Dynasty played an important role in the development of dumplings.
A businessman from the Qing Dynasty started a dumpling restaurant which was run by the whole family and passed down from generation to generation. This family traveled to different provinces, began to collect data, and integrated the principles and traditions of cuisine cooking skills. Finally they created one of the most famous Chinese dumplings, "Laobian dumplings". Nowadays, the current "Laobian Dumpling Restaurant 老边饺子" is one of China's most famous dumpling restaurants, having branches in Beijing, Shenyang and Harbin.
Symbolic Representation of Dumplings
Dumplings are not only just a food, but also a representation of Chinese cuisine. Every part of the dumpling demonstrates a part of the Chinese culture, which is essential during every Spring Festival dinner, expressing the people's aspirations for a better life.
Celery stuffing represents the meaning of wealth and industry for the production of materials.
It is the steady wealth and also hard-working, pragmatic blessing.
Leek stuffing represents the meaning of long term wealth.
It is the long term material wealth blessing and the wish for the family to be in good health, harmony, joy and happiness.
Cabbage stuffing represents the well-off life.
It is the blessing for a well-off life for a hundred years and the enduring love between new couples.
Mushroom stuffing is the mascot for wealth and luck.
Mushrooms are shaped like an up arrow showing the stock market's potential growth. It may also represent progress, increasing life standards, or wishes for the younger generation to be successful.
Fish stuffing means to accumulate more wealth.
Eating fish stuffed dumplings means wishing you have a lot of remaining money. "Hardly pay and get wealthy" is a popular saying in China. After paying, what is left should be wealth and health.
Beef stuffing represents strong economic growth.
The bull is an arrogant animal showing its strong temper, and is favored by stock investors. The bull market brings wealth to people, so people call it "Bull Wealth". Saying "Niu Qi Shi Zhu 牛气十足" gives the wishes for friends' good health and having a happy life.
I updated this article on January 1, 2014
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